For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 17, 2008 - library answers planning questions
First, my thanks to the literally thousands of people who have responded to recent library mailings about our consideration of a proposal to add additional library space and materials around the county. I appreciate it.
Second, some of our citizens have asked pointed questions. I'd like to answer them.
Question: in Parker, why don't we just buy and renovate the vacant King Soopers, as we did with the old Safeway in Castle Rock?
Answer: the building isn't for sale. The owners have other plans for the property. We can't buy what isn't on the market.
Question: "are you idiots aware that there's a recession?"
Answer: we have got to do something about the quality of public discourse in this county.
No, we're not idiots. Yes, we are aware that some of us are spending up to $30 more a week to fill up our gas tanks -- for which we receive absolutely NO increase in value.
Here's another choice: for about $30 more per YEAR (based on the average home's value of $300,000), our community can build three new libraries, and add tens of thousands of new materials every year. Borrow just one of those books back from us, and you've recovered that investment. Borrow two, and you're ahead of the curve. When times are tight, libraries are an even better value.
There is some urgency to a 2008 question: for two of our libraries (Parker and Lone Tree) we have been offered free land. If we fail to seize that opportunity by the end of the year, the free land goes away in Lone Tree. Future library expansion will be even more expensive.
Question: don't libraries undercut bookstores, video and music stores?
Answer: libraries don't steal business from the private sector. On the contrary: we grow it. Bookstores near libraries do better than those farther away. The same is true for movie and music stores. We don't compete with one another; we build markets together.
And we WANT the business community to thrive. Every year, we help hundreds of patrons find new jobs. We help hundreds of entrepreneurs do the research necessary to launch new home-based businesses -- the fastest growing sector of our economy. Through our "economic gardening" initiative (in combination with the county and local economic development and chambers of commerce) we provide the data to take those businesses out of the basement, and get them into offices on Main Street.
Question: what's the evidence for the need for new library facilities?
Answer: I can cite lots of statistics (a well-tested standard of half-a-square-foot-per-capita served, where it's clear the population greatly outstrips our square footage; a statistic of checkouts-per-person-per-year of 20, some three to four times greater than the rest of the nation; a use of children's materials greater than any library in the state; a growth in demand, year to year, of 18-33% depending on location).
But it really comes down to this: if you use the library, you know the need is real. If you don't, take a trip to one of our branches and see for yourself, assuming you can find a parking space. (Incidentally, 4 out of 5 households in Douglas County use the library pretty regularly.)
So does all that add up to "need?" Or is it just an opportunity to invest in a kind of community -- one that demonstrably values lifelong learning -- where you actually want to live?
I'll continue to address recurrent questions in this space for the next few weeks. Also, please note our public meetings at:
* Highlands Ranch Library (9292 Ridgeline Blvd.
Saturday, July 12 from 4 to 5 p.m.
* Neighborhood Library at Lone Tree (8827 Lone Tree Pkwy)
Saturday, July 19 from 4 to 5 p.m.
* Parker Library (10851 South Crossroads Dr)
Friday, July 25 from 6 to 7 p.m.
* Philip S. Miller Library (100 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock)
Monday, July 28 from 6 to 7 p.m.